The Talking Trees

Oak Tree

by Frank Thomas Smith

Nicolás lives in a small town in the north of the country. The house he lives in is on the outskirts of the town near a forest. When Nicolás looks out of his bedroom window he sees the forest. It has been there as long as he can remember. In fact, it is one of the first things he ever saw, after his mother of course. When he was a baby she used to hold him up so he could look out the window at the forest.

When Nicolás was old enough to walk he went with his mother into the forest along a footpath, but only as far as a Talking Tree. The tree didn't talk to him then, naturally, because he wouldn't have understood. It was the tallest and thickest tree around and Nicolás's mother told him it was an oak.

*

Alma lives in another small town in the north of country. The house she lives in is on the outskirts of the town near the same forest. When Alma looks out her bedroom window she sees the forest. It has been there as long as she can remember. In fact, it is one of the first things she ever saw, after her father of course. When she was a baby he used to hold her up so she could look out the window at the forest.

When Alma was old enough to walk she went with her father into the forest along a footpath, but only as far as a Talking Tree. The tree didn't talk to her then naturally, because she wouldn't have understood. It was the tallest and thickest tree around and Alma's father told her it was an oak.

*

One fine spring day, Nico – as his friends called him – walked to the oak-tree after lunch; it was only about three miles and he knew the way well. He sat down within the curve of a fat oak-root and opened a book to read. He had only read a few pages when he heard a strange voice: Is the book interesting? It seemed to come from above. He jumped up and looked up into the tree, thinking that someone was sitting or standing on a branch. But he saw no one.

Yes, It is, he said. Where are you? He looked all around, even behind the tree, but still saw no one.

What is the book's title? the voice asked. It was like a whisper, but clear and flowing.

The Magic Mound. Do you know it?

No, we have heard of The Magic Mountain, but that is something else, quite old.

Where are you? Nico repeated, tired of the joke.

You were sitting on us. Nico looked down at the roots. Now you are looking at our roots.

Nico's eyes opened wide: Are you the tree?

You have said it.

But trees can't talk.

Usually we do not, but we can if we wish – as long as there is a little wind.

Nico noticed that the tree's whispered voice sounded like wind coming from the treetop.

Even when we do talk to people they do not hear us, the tree said. So we don't bother.

*

On the other side of the forest Alma was having a conversation with a different oak-tree. I won't describe it because it was so similar to Nico's so far, but when the tree said that people don't listen, she said, I hear you.

We know, somehow we knew you would, the tree replied. What would you like to know?

Alma thought a while, then said, How old are you?

We do not remember exactly, a few hundred years perhaps.

Wow! That's awesome!

The tree seemed pleased at first, but then Alma heard what sounded like a sigh: We do not think we will last much longer though.

Well, you are quite old, Alma said.

Not for an oak. We could live much longer.

Oh, sorry. Are you sick then? You look fine to me … only kind of sad.

No, not sick at all, quite well, thank you.

Why are you sad then? Alma wanted to know.

*

Because soon they will cut us down, Nico's tree said.

Oh, that's too bad, Nico commiserated. You always say "we". Will they only cut you down, or other trees as well?

All the trees in this forest, including my Sister Tree on the other side.

(Both trees always said the same thing, except that Nico's tree said my Sister Tree and Alma's tree said my Brother Tree)

That's terrible, Nico said, but how do you know that?

Because we hear the men talking when they come with their strange instruments and talk about how long it will take to cut us all down and what they will do with our dead bodies, which they call wood.

*

We do not mind when they cut a few of us down to make furniture or houses or even kindling, Alma's tree explained. But to cut down the whole forest is very bad – and not only for us.

Do you mean... ?

Yes, for you too, and for all the animals and for the atmosphere, and, well...

For everything! Alma exclaimed.

We are all one, Nico's tree explained. All oaks in a forest are one, as are all pines, all weeping willows, all plants and animals of every species.

*

But how do you communicate with each other? Nico asked. You have no cellphones.

Our roots are like underground cellphones.

Nico didn't stop to think about how extraordinary that was; instead he asked, But why do they want to cut you all down?

They want to clear the land to sell it, then those who buy it will plant things that make much money, like soy beans, or grazing land for farting cows, the tree explained. Or they will build tall buildings and charge rent or gated communities where the rich can safely live.

Nico was so shocked that he could not think of anything to say. Until something occurred to him. He asked, Why are you telling me this, Tree?

The tree waited for a stiff breeze, then said, Because you are still a boy and can understand us with your heart. It paused as the breeze relaxed, then continued when it blew again: We have seen you come here almost every day since you were born; you are still one of us.

Nico had never thought of himself as a tree, but he rather liked the idea.

*

On the other end of the forest Alma's tree waited for a stiff breeze, then said, Because you are still a girl and can understand us with your heart. It paused as the breeze relaxed, then continued when it blew again: We have seen you come here almost every day since you were born; you are still one of us.

Alma had never thought of herself as a tree, but she rather liked the idea.

How can I help … er ...us? she asked.

We do not know, that is why we are trees and not people. We see and we hear and we feel, but we cannot think much beyond the moment.

And you can't move, Alma said.

That was so obvious that the tree had no need to say anything.

So I would have to think of something myself.

The tree nodded in the breeze and said: My Brother Tree is talking to a boy right now.

Who is that boy? Alma asked, surprised. Do I know him?

I do not know. If you want to meet him, Alf will take you to him.

Before Alma could ask who Alf is, a large bird circled around the highest branches, then spiraled down until it sat on the lowest branch, but still above the girl's head. It was a gray owl that stared at her with piercing eyes.

Follow Alf, the tree said, almost like an order.

Alf spread its wings and flew deeper into the forest and landed on the next oak and waited. Alma followed walking, then running. It was easy because a path through the forest seemed to open before her. But when she looked back there was no path behind her.

*

Nico followed his owl, Ali, who spread her wings and flew deeper into the forest and landed on the next oak and waited. Nico followed walking, then running. It was easy because a path through the forest seemed to open before him. But when he looked back there was no path behind him.

After what seemed a long time Alma's owl, Alf, screeched, and Alma heard a similar screech coming from a distance. Finally the two owls, Alf and Ali, met, circled happily around each other and landed on an old oak's lower branch. Nico ran around a curve to not lose sight of Ali, then saw the two owls seated on the oak's branch looking at him; then they turned their heads and stared at a girl. Both Alma and Nico stopped in their tracks.

Are you the boy who talks to Brother Tree? Alma asked the boy

Yes, answered the boy. Are you the girl who talks to Sister Tree?

Yes, I am. Did your tree tell you about … about..

About being cut down? Nico continued for her

Yes, she did.

Do you think we can help them? Nico asked.

I don't know, Alma said, But I think we should try. After all, part of us will be cut down too.

Nico thought about that for a while, then said, Yeah, that's right; I didn't think of that. But what can we do?

I'll ask my dad, Alma said.

And I'll ask my mom, Nico said.

Where can we meet afterward?

They both looked up at Ali and Alf sitting alongside each other on a branch of the tree.

Can you bring us back here tomorrow? Alma asked them.

After you show us the way home now, Nico added.

The two owls whistled together three times.

Does that mean we should whistle three times for you? Alma asked them.

The owls nodded.

We better go home now, Nico said, it'll be dark soon.

They exchanged cellphone numbers and followed their respective owls back to Sister Tree and Brother Tree, from where each one ran home.

*

A talking tree? Nico's mother exclaimed...then she grinned: You gotta be kidding.

No, mom, no kidding. I went into the forest up till that big old oak we often visit. I sat down and opened a book to read. After a while the tree asked me if the book was interesting.

But Nicolás, his mother said, trees can't talk, you know that.

That's because we don't listen.

His mother smiled. That may be true, but who told you that?

The tree.

Now Nico, listen to me...

The voice seemed to come from above. I jumped up and looked up into the tree, thinking that someone was sitting or standing on a branch. But there was no one there. Then he asked me what the book's title was and –

And Nico told his mom the whole rest of the story as I have already described to you.

*

A talking tree? Alma's father exclaimed...then he grinned: You gotta be kidding.

After Alma told her dad her side of the story, which was essentially the same as what Nico told his mom, her dad refused to believe that a tree could talk and tell his daughter what she claimed.

*

Nico's mother, however, was not quite so sure. She called a friend who was a provincial politician and asked him if he knew anything about the forest being cut down. The politician hummed and hawed, but when Nico's mom insisted, he admitted that the governor had made a deal with certain real estate developers he couldn't name, who would build luxury apartments and a soccer field and sell the land for cattle grazing, which means thousands of farting cows, who are responsible for global warming, although it's not their fault. The developers would pay for clearing the forest of annoying trees and later pay high taxes and something extra special for the governor.

Was it announced in the press? Nico's mother asked. I haven't heard anything about it.

Well – and this is just between us – the governor wants to keep it quiet until the work has actually started, which will be this week.

Why?

Oh you know, to keep the tree-huggers and other bleeding hearts away until it's too late for them to cause trouble.

Nico's mother thought a while, then said, I don´t like it, it's not right to keep something important like this secret. In fact, it smells pretty bad to me.

Well, this is the real world; you'll get over it.

*

Nico sent Alma a WhatsApp asking her to meet him in the forest asap. When she answered he ran to Brother Tree and whistled three times.

Alf the owl came almost immediately when Alma whistled three times and sat perched on Sister Tree's usual branch. She asked to be led to where she and Nico had met the day before.

It's true, Nico told her. My mother talked to a politician who admitted it.

Of course it's true, Alma said. The trees said so, didn't they?

Yeah but, well, you know, this confirms it.

Okay, but what are we gonna do about it?

Nico thought a moment, then said, I don't know; what do you think we could do?

How about if we climbed up the trees, Alma suggested. They wouldn't cut them down if we were sitting in them, would they?

I don't know, Nico said, but we could try.

Alma and Nico went back to their respective trees and asked if they would allow the children to climb up on them. The trees nodded as though shaken by a strong wind, although there was no wind at all. Then they went to their schools and told their fellow students how they intended to save the forest. Most of the students were enthusiastic and volunteered to help by climbing trees. Some teachers heard the talk but didn't take it seriously, or didn't want to. Others liked the idea and eventually became climbers, also known as tree-huggers, themselves.

The idea spread like wildfire when local newspapers and social media on the internet expressed interest.

Alma and Nico climbed up their respective Brother and Sister Trees on the day before the lumber company was scheduled to begin their killing cutting spree. Their parents, who were opposed at first, finally climbed the trees close to the ones their kids climbed. They said it was in order to help save the trees, but we suspect it was also in order to keep an eye on their strong-willed offspring.

Soon the forest was filled with trees having people sitting up in their branches. Every tree couldn't have someone sitting in them, but there were enough climbers to make cutting down the forest impossible. They were mostly young people, but old people who could no longer climb trees also came and sat at the bottom of the trees on their roots or just leaned against them. The police arrested a few of them, but when a TV camera caught the cops dragging an old woman by her hair, the governor screamed at the Chief of Police to stop, to leave the forest and never come back or he'd never be elected again. The police left, but the governor wasn't reelected anyway.

Finally the whole state, then the whole country and finally the whole world knew about the tree-hugger movement founded by Alma and Nico. Certain politicians, who were paid by lumber companies and real estate development companies, including the one owned by the President of the Republic, fought with all their considerable power and money to force the huggers down from the trees; but they refused to come down until the deal between the government and the real estate companies was canceled.

Alma and Nico are proud of having saved the forest near them, but they now know that many, many forests have already been destroyed, not only in their own country, but in many other places in the world. They also know now that the trees in the forests are living beings with their own kind of intelligence and feeling; and that they are necessary for the survival and well-being of the whole planet. Alma and Nico decided to dedicate their lives to knowing and helping the trees, plants and animals of the forests survive the greed and ignorance of humans.

We don't know yet if they will succeed.




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